Thursday, February 16, 2006

English's millionth word?

A Harvard-trained executive and language lover, president of the Global Language Monitor, has some predictions about English.

The English language had precisely 986,120 words at the time of this interview, Paul Payack said. And it should incorporate its millionth word sometime in June. (The OED, in contrast, includes about 600,000 words.)

What are his qualifications to make such predictions? Nil, it seems. Linguists say he's full of it.
Mr. Payack's word count is hotly disputed by linguists, who cannot even agree on what a word is, much less count them. Are IBM and CNN words? Are color and colour two words, or one? What about Latin scientific words, or the million words for species of plants and insects?
Payack would say yes. He also counts text messaging shorthand as new words (I CN for I can). And he has people sending in entries from around the globe (drinktea, for what a Chinese shopkeeper puts on the door to explain why he's closed for business, or fundoo, an English word for cool among Hindi speakers).

The story also includes some fun facts:

50,000 to 60,000
Number of words in Old English

20,000 to 24,000
Number of words found in the complete works of Shakespeare

Number of words Shakespeare invented

Approximate number of words in the vocabulary of a baby aged 18 to 24 months

10,000 to 50,000
Estimated number of words in the vocabulary of an average adult

Number of words an educated adult understands but doesn't actively use


At 5:27 PM, February 16, 2006, Blogger aparker54 said...

Benjamin Zimmer of Language Log has unkind words for Payack's methods:

At 9:33 AM, February 17, 2006, Blogger fev said...

Yeah, I think the technical journalistic term would be "he's full of it." What is it about "Harvard-trained" that causes newspapers to suspend disbelief when somebody pulls some numbers out of thin air?


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